Thursday 17 December 2020

More on Bullshit Jobs

A great short strip on the realities of work in the hi-tech economy by @krishraghav


Anonymous said...

Love it spot on.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that fits with the original definition. That's real work, which benefits someone, just not paid enough. Bullshit jobs don't benefit anyone, they just keep the system going.

Blissex said...

That is a job that produces something useful, so that's not a "bullshit job", it is a "shitjob".
There will be bullshit jobs at the headquarters of the bike-rental business among "staff" jobs, but usually "line" jobs are not useless.

As to "invisible labour" and 'efficiency' is just deflected exploitation" these useful "shitjobs" exist because there is a huge supply of workers desperate for a job and thus widespread unemployment and underemployment.

The usual "solution" to an excess supply of workers is for them to become servants. But the middle and middle-upper classes who used to hire many servants no longer can afford them, so a lot of those servant jobs have been "industrialized": instead of having a cook, they buy ready meals from Waitrose and M&S (the servants work in the industrial plants that make them), instead of having a maid to do the shopping, they get home deliveries, instead of having a charlady, a cleaning company sends someone once a week, instead of a nanny there is a company nursery, etc.; some quotes
«The son of a doctor and a nurse, Nicholas Parsons was raised in a ‘well-to-do, professional, middle-class family’. His parents weren’t rich, but before the war a GP’s wage went a lot further than it does today. His father could afford a butler, a cook, a maid and a nanny.»
«For decades Sweden consciously tried to get rid of low-skilled service jobs, says Karin Svanborg-Sjovall, of Timbro, a free-market think-tank. “We are fanatics about equality here,” she says. These jobs now need to come back to help newcomers.»
«But domestic service seems to be going democratic. Today's Telegraph reports though that 50% of households now employ such servants. They slightly disappoint those who would return to the world of hot and cold running upstairs and downstairs maids by revealing just what they are being asked to do: “The most popular domestic staff positions are window cleaners, gardeners, cleaners and odd-job men who are hired on a regular basis.”»>
«Some defenders of low-wage, low-skilled immigration candidly admit that wage suppression keeps menial services affordable for professional-class employers and consumers, especially those who live in expensive cities. According to Dylan Matthews, “increased immigration reduces the prices of services provided by immigrants, such as gardening and housekeeping. There’s some evidence that immigration even gets more women into the workforce by making it cheaper to hire people to watch after children and elderly relatives, and perform other homemaking tasks.”»

Usually servant jobs, either private or collectivised, are useful, but sometimes they are just decorative, indeed "bullshit jobs":
«He pointed out that, even in 1899, labour-saving devices would considerably reduce the need for household labour, which suggested to him that people hired servants not to relieve themselves of tedious tasks, but to be provided with “conspicuous subservience”. A servant both satisfied the master's “propensity for dominance” and presented a public “performance of leisure”. The liveried footman, who demonstrated by his decorative uselessness his master's ability to consume a great deal of unproductive labour, was the ultimate status symbol. Prosperous and busy people employ nannies and cleaners to make life easy for themselves. But sometimes the point of having a servant is simply to be a master.»

Boffy said...

It won't apply to autonomous vehicles that will drive themselves to where they need to go. Also, what about all the labour saved in the production of bikes that don't need to be produced, because its no longer necessary for everyone to have a bike.

Seems like the technology has saved huge amounts of labour-the to me, and as Marx and Engels say, if that wasn't the case, capital would not have spent the money on the technology in the first place.

Anonymous said...

This sort of thing has to be regarded as kind of a "chrysalis" phase. There's a lot of experimentation going on, and nobody yet quite knows what the final form will be when it settles down.

The robots and algorithms will take some jobs relatively soon, while there are some jobs like picking up bikes that they pretty obviously won't be going after for a while, and the use of bikes might even become a thing of the past before they do.

But different people have different ideas of "obvious" as well; and the people launching the tech startups over the last decade with the hope of being at pole position when the next stability phase arrives - if indeed there is one - have been in the business of selling a vision of what the future will look like, and then having to fudge it in the short term with fauxtomation and "disruptive business models", until either that future arrives or they can no longer generate faith that it ever will arrive.

So these are jobs based on bullshit now, but a defender of them would say that they won't be forever - one way or another, they will either disappear (automated away, or undermined by loss of faith, or made irrelevant by other changes); or else they will graduate to "real jobs", after we realise that we do need them but we can't automate them after all.

Not to suggest that vigilance is not required, because there are plenty of real horrors possible in the meantime. One of the biggest risks is that jobs which we do need but which can't be profitably automated will simply be seen by both capital investors and governments (if those are meaningfully separable) as unfundable, and they won't happen at all unless citizens privately pay for it themselves. Medical services and other emergency responses such policing and firefighting are already in grave danger of going this way.

Dialectician1 said...

'The Gods and the Useless' by Calum Chance is worth a butchers By no means a Marxist, he forecasts massive contradictions in the capitalist system that will not be resolved by universal benefits for the 'useless' (the great majority will be jobless or be employed in bullshit jobs/shit jobs for the super rich). He paints a dyspotian picture of the future based around a model similar to the 'permanent arms economy' theory, in that warfare or genocidal solutions will only partially resolve these contradictions.

Blissex said...

«One of the biggest risks is that jobs which we do need but which can't be profitably automated will simply be seen by both capital investors and governments (if those are meaningfully separable) as unfundable, and they won't happen at all unless citizens privately pay for it themselves.»

That's a highly optimistic view... I can no longer find it, but I read an amusing and terrifying "near future" story, where it is imagined that in the USA some businesses write an "employee operating system", a rule based software that tells employees with a headcam and headphones what to do minute by minute, so they need no training, and as that is further developed, and "learns" with AI techniques how to perform the details of tasks, gets installed on robots, and the employees one by one get sacked, get evicted, and moved to "welfare villages" where the water contains anticonceptionals and tranquilizers, while the robot owners and the politicians who work for them live in absolute luxury served in everything by robots. Eventually a group of "useless" workers confined to a "welfare village" near the west coast gets freed by a rescue mission from Australia where robots are mostly government owned and work for everybody.

That dystopian near future is not so unrealistic: as the elites realize that the planet's carrying capacity is limited and probably has been exceeded (likely by a factor of 2-4), they will want to focus the remaining resources on themselves, and minimize the production of goods for everybody else, and reduce the number of "useless" people.

Note: I actually think that live workers are always going to be much cheaper than robots, which cost a lot in terms of building them, fueling them, maintaining them. No robot can compete with the current worldwide average wage of around £1 per hour. What robots will do is simply to drive down wages until workers become cheaper than robots. Humans are also good as providers of what one writer called "conspicuous subservience": bossing over robots is nowhere as satisfying for many rich people as bossing live human being and enjoying their powerlessness.

Another story with a shorter term view of the near future of work is a step towards that, temp jobs "gamification" via apps:

Blissex said...

This page may be perhaps scary, but it may be unfortunately a bit too realistic, One of the "great" aspects of the whig sponsored "identity politics" is that it is based on the notions of absolute property rights to one's own body (see abortion) and freedom-of-contract (see gay marriage) and the obvious implication of those is the return of ancient practices as debtor prison and debt indentured servitude.
«Davidowitz says, “Poverty is the new growth sector”. As the century wears on, realities will undoubtedly bring back slavery, at first in the very mild version of the present, but as life becomes harsher, out-and-out slavery will make its reappearance in the world. The imperatives of life will have their way: food, clothing and lodging in return for total obedience and work. This is an aspect of “Peak Prosperity” that has not been examined so far.»

BCFG said...

“Seems like the technology has saved huge amounts of labour-the to me, and as Marx and Engels say, if that wasn't the case, capital would not have spent the money on the technology in the first place.”

This is a common mistake some Marxists make, David Harvey makes it all the time. Yes capitalists will invest in technology to save labour but they are also forced into technological advancement due to market competition, even technology that doesn’t necessarily save labour. For example technology that improves the consumer experience. After all capitalists need to grab market share from their rivals. We live in a period where this actually means firms have to employ more labour than they would have otherwise. The pandemic is actually forcing a change that would have happened anyway, namely a move to online retail and away from in store selling. This will mean firms can shed labour.

The pandemic is acting like a great strike, and as Marx point’s outs strikes were a great incentive to automation.

Another thing the pandemic has done is to throw a light on the Zombie economy. It is ironic that Boffy has long argued we should scrap housing benefits to basically kill off the Zombie firms but now has become their dumb fuck Knight in shoddy armour, as he believes it’s a really good idea to let this virus just rip through the population in order to save the Zombie economy!

The pandemic has also shown what I have always known, that Boffy belongs out on the ultra right, with his this is no worse than flu, Sweden are the poster child, nothing to see here with this virus, people are phoning NHS direct to get a few days off work sick and all the other dumb fuck shite he spouts.

It is hard to tell the difference between Trump, Boffy, Farage, Julia-Hartley-Brewer, Tim martin and all the other scum.